Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jan 29 2019 - Genesis 37:1-36 – Joseph sold into slavery

Jacob had a complicated household. He now had twelve sons born to his two wives and their maidservants. Only the youngest two sons, Joseph and his younger brother Benjamin, had been born to his favourite wife, Rachel. Rachel had died giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob's great love for Rachel was reflected in the way he loved these two sons more than all the others. In particular, he showed his love for Joseph in making him a special coat – whether it was 'a coat of many colours' we cannot be sure (the meaning of the original term is unclear).

Joseph is now seventeen and is enjoying his 'most favoured son' status. He seems to enjoy getting his older brothers into trouble by telling father Jacob about anything improper they had got up to. As a result, unsurprisingly, his brothers hated him. And then there are Joseph's dreams that suggested he would lord it over his brothers and even over his father and his step-mother Leah. His father rebuked him for his dreams, but at the same time his father pondered what Joseph had said. His brothers simply hated him all the more.

Joseph is not an attractive character; he is a spoilt and arrogant young man. Nevertheless, God plans to use this man to save his whole family, safeguard the promise made to Abraham and bring blessing to the nations of the world. Again we learn that God uses broken people like us to accomplish his purposes and establish his kingdom.

One day, Joseph was sent by his father Jacob to check up on the brothers who are looking after the flocks some 50 miles north in Shechem. In fact, Joseph has to travel 15 miles further to the outskirts of the city of Dothan to find them – what were they getting up to in the city and why had Jacob felt the need to check up on them?

When they see him coming, the brothers plot to kill the dreamer. But Reuben, the eldest, persuades them to throw Joseph into a nearby pit designed to gather water during the rainy season. He plans to return later and rescue Joseph, perhaps hoping that this experience will have taught him a lesson. But Reuben is not there when the Midianite traders pass by and Judah, another of the older brothers, suggests that they sell Joseph as a slave. So they exchange Joseph for twenty shekels of silver – money to spend in Dothan?

Reuben returns and finds that Joseph is gone and is distraught. He knows that, as the eldest, he will be held responsible for what has happened. Together they hit upon a plan. They took Joseph's coat, tore it and splatted it with blood from a goat to deceive their father into thinking that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Jacob, the old deceiver, is deceived and will not be comforted by his daughters or by his deceiving sons.

What a sorry mess! And what are we to make of this story? It's all too easy to seek to draw out moral lessons: fathers should not have favourite sons; obnoxious teenagers are heading for trouble; the hankering after the bright lights of the city when far from home will lead you into sin; those who deceive their father will be deceived by their sons... But the Bible narrative does not stop to focus on any of these issues; it is concerned to tell the extraordinary story of how God works out his purposes through human rivalry and wickedness. Joseph is sold into slavery that he might become a servant of the purposes of God.

Almighty God, thank you that you are sovereign over all of history and that you are working out your purposes even through the sinful act of others. Thank you for the cross and for the salvation that streams to us from that ultimate act of human wickedness. Help me to know that your work in me is for your own glory so that I may never boast in anything except the greatness of your saving work in Christ.

Peter Misselbrook